Darrell M. Blocker: From CIA Spycraft Master to Hollywood Creative Consultant

Darrell M. Blocker started his career as a US Air Force intelligence analyst and CIA operations officer before turning his storytelling skills into a remarkable third career as a Hollywood creative consultant.

The CIA veteran - who spent 28 years at the CIA and was on President Joe Biden’s list of potential Agency directors - is guiding TV and film creators in the spy thriller genre, working on ground-breaking series including Condor.

Darrell Block, SPYEX consultant and  ex-CIA officer
Blocker is an ex-CIA officer and SPYEX consultant


Blocker also serves as chief operating officer of MOSAIC, a boutique strategic risk and crisis management, intelligence, and security advisory firm. And he sets time aside to help improve the future for youth in foster care. That’s not all. Blocker is also part of an elite team of speakers, consultants, and corporate trainers from the secret intelligence community available for hire through SPYFLIX's sister agency, SPYEX.
 

Top 10 CIA Myths

1. The CIA spies on US citizens.

2. The men and women who work for the CIA are spies and agents.

3. All CIA officers recruit and handle agents.

4. CIA officers are quiet, mysterious, live undercover, and lie about where they work

5. The CIA has law enforcement authority and all CIA officers carry guns.

6. The Agency operates independently and is not held accountable to anyone.

7. Working at CIA will earn you fame and recognition.

8. The CIA makes foreign policy.

9. All CIA officers are fluent in multiple languages.

10. CIA officers are the keepers of all government secrets.

Darrell M. Blocker: From CIA Spycraft Master to Hollywood Creative Consultant

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Darrell M. Blocker started his career as a US Air Force intelligence analyst and CIA operations officer before turning his storytelling skills into a remarkable third career as a Hollywood creative consultant.

The CIA veteran - who spent 28 years at the CIA and was on President Joe Biden’s list of potential Agency directors - is guiding TV and film creators in the spy thriller genre, working on ground-breaking series including Condor.

Darrell Block, SPYEX consultant and  ex-CIA officer
Blocker is an ex-CIA officer and SPYEX consultant


Blocker also serves as chief operating officer of MOSAIC, a boutique strategic risk and crisis management, intelligence, and security advisory firm. And he sets time aside to help improve the future for youth in foster care. That’s not all. Blocker is also part of an elite team of speakers, consultants, and corporate trainers from the secret intelligence community available for hire through SPYFLIX's sister agency, SPYEX.
 

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Darrell Block, SPYEX consultant and  ex-CIA officer
Blocker dancing during a 2004 trip to Uganda


Blocker takes his current roles very seriously - and he does not mess around when it comes to delivering results. At the same time, he’s an absolute delight to have at the table, jovial, funny, and always down for a really good and peaty Scotch whisky. Blocker took a few moments out of his crazy-busy schedule to answer a few questions for SPYFLIX.

How does what you now know about the film / TV-making process compare to what you expected or thought you knew, before you entered the space?

When I was growing up, there were two jobs to which I aspired; pilot and writer. The dream of being an Air Force pilot went away after flying one summer during Officer Candidate School. The latter dream collapsed when I realized that I didn’t have the gift of writing. However, storytelling and character development are inherent in both Hollywood and espionage, so I’ve tapped into those particular skills.

I am a huge fan of the spy genre. What I knew about the process for getting projects greenlit was nonexistent, however. I have now been in three separate writers’ rooms, and I’ve developed a process to apply a custom-tailored 'Real versus Reel' approach to the work of each unique team of showrunners and writers. Interestingly, the similarities between the writers’ room and the CIA operational brainstorming sessions we refer to as 'the bullpen' are striking.

First, the writers’ room (WR) is roughly equivalent to the station bullpen (BP) in the sense that each is comprised of team members, all contributing to an overall project, each with varying degrees of experience and a singular goal.

Second, the showrunner is roughly equivalent to the station’s handling officer because both are ultimately responsible for the success of their project/mission. The showrunner/head writer creates a series of episodes or a movie and a case officer spots, assesses, develops, and recruits an agent/source/asset.

Third, the individual season episodes are hashed out in the WR via back-and-forth dialogue between individual writers, but credited to a single individual.

Fourth, the WR and BP are processes that occur over many days, weeks, and months and are impacted by revisions, budget cuts, and external oversight.
 

Darrell Block, SPYEX consultant and  ex-CIA officer
Blocker was on President Biden’s list of potential CIA directors

  

What challenges have you faced in helping entertainment clients develop and produce material? 

The biggest challenge is getting the writers’ room, including showrunners, to accept and acknowledge that their knowledge of CIA is skewed and based almost entirely on Hollywood’s depiction of CIA - which is usually inaccurate and one-dimensional. 

I have been in numerous writers’ rooms in the last three years. Each was unique, and I am improving on my use of the 'Reel versus Real' concept to inform projects with insight on CIA and its practices.

I begin by sharing the Top 10 Myths About CIA (see below) with the writing/creative team with an eye toward ensuring the most ridiculous Hollywood tropes are kept out of scripts. Hollywood refuses to accept and acknowledge that CIA officers are not law enforcement and that 99% of the time never, ever carry any type of weapon.

I review a writer’s initial draft and then help them understand how an actual CIA operation might unfold so that we can determine the plausibility (or lack of), and course correct if necessary. I have yet to meet or work with a writer who didn’t think my input improved their final output.

Do you consider yourself to be a creative, and if so, have you been able to contribute creatively, in addition to helping ensure authenticity through consulting?

I am a creative. I have always been a creative. Officially, my title role within the entertainment industry is creative consultant. 

CIA operatives are natural-born storytellers, but I defer to the showrunners and writers of projects such as Condor, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, and The Department as to whether I was effective or not. 

 

Darrell Block, SPYEX consultant and  ex-CIA officer
Blocker is a volunteer and board member for Peace4Kids, champions of youth in foster care

 

Does your involvement typically carry through to the production shoot phase (working on set), or are you most often involved in the pre-production phases of a project? 

Yes, I’ve been instrumental on all fronts - crafting storylines, developing characters, and assisting production design staff with visuals and key set details.

What series / films have really hit the mark, striking that perfect balance between plausible stories and great entertainment?

As I explained to the cast and crew of Homeland at CIA headquarters in early 2014, accurately depicting how the CIA operates allows our adversaries to potentially obtain insight into what keeps our nation safe. Honestly, we don’t want accurate portrayals of tradecraft and how the CIA operates, because lives are at stake - namely the spy and spy handler. 

There’s a scene from A Most Wanted Man, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films, that best depicts an agent meeting. It’s the boat / ferry scene about two-thirds through the film. His character is from the German equivalent of CIA, and he has to convince a reluctant spy to go back into the fray one last time. It’s the closest I’ve seen.

 

Darrell Block, SPYEX consultant and  ex-CIA officer
'We don’t want accurate portrayals of tradecraft and how the CIA operates... lives are at stake'

  

Whether it’s consulting on a series/film, speaking at a conference, or conducting corporate training courses, what is required, when it comes to being free to discuss specifics about your time at CIA? 

The CIA trusted me to protect our nation for nearly three decades, so I told them as I was walking out the door that I would honor my oath, but that I was not going to be asking or seeking 'Mother May I' permissions, like so many of my former colleagues.

Darrell Block, SPYEX consultant and  ex-CIA officer
SPYEX consultant Darrell M. Blocker in Mogadishu for the CIA

I will never endanger our nation by revealing insider information.

However, this was my life and my experiences that I can, have and will share responsibly with others - whether it be to improve a series or film, or simply debunk widely-held and totally inaccurate portrayals of CIA that are rampant these days.



What are your personal passions, and how are you integrating them into your life today, if at all? 

I have three primary areas of interest: my role as the chief operating officer for MOSAIC, a boutique crisis management and intel / security firm; my role as a creative consultant in the entertainment industry; and my role as a volunteer and board member for Peace4Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to championing youth in foster care.

Darrell Block, SPYEX consultant and  ex-CIA officer
Blocker manages Operations for MOSAIC, a strategic risk and crisis management, intelligence, and security advisory firm

 

Can we expect to see any Darrell Blocker-created films, series, or books in the future?

Yes, yes, and no. No books planned.

My creative partner is The New York Times best-selling author of Driving the Saudis and our partnership is SME/Creatives. I am the subject matter expert (SME) and Jayne Amelia Larson is the Creative. We currently have six projects in varying degrees of development with Entertainment Media Ventures, headed by our manager and long-time Hollywood insider Sandy Climan.

SME/Creatives was borne out of my desire to showcase the CIA that I experienced, which had plenty of women and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color] characters that are rarely featured in current espionage-focused projects.

Our six projects feature authentic women and people of color, and yes, LGBTQ too. My last CIA assignment was as Chief of Station and my Deputy COS was a divorced, gay man with two adopted children from Asia. Writers emulate what they’ve seen on the screen in the past, particularly the worst myths, so I specifically set out to right that wrong - one script, one series, one film at a time.

Hollywood never seems to tire of WWII or espionage-driven material, so we have an OSS-era series featuring four women who served in the CIA predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services. We have two projects featuring a cadre of CIA operatives that has never before been depicted by Hollywood. We have two projects featuring women, including one with a Special Forces background and another with three generations of female CIA officers. And the sixth project deals with the psychology of espionage or - as SPYSCAPE refers to it - SPYCOLOGY.


***

Darrell Blocker is an expert on security, risk, crisis management, diversity & inclusion, and entertainment. He can be booked at SPYEX.com to appear at events or consult on projects.

Top 10 CIA Myths

1. The CIA spies on US citizens.

2. The men and women who work for the CIA are spies and agents.

3. All CIA officers recruit and handle agents.

4. CIA officers are quiet, mysterious, live undercover, and lie about where they work

5. The CIA has law enforcement authority and all CIA officers carry guns.

6. The Agency operates independently and is not held accountable to anyone.

7. Working at CIA will earn you fame and recognition.

8. The CIA makes foreign policy.

9. All CIA officers are fluent in multiple languages.

10. CIA officers are the keepers of all government secrets.

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